Ministry of Social Affairs Launches Investigation Into Church

A U.S.-based Pentecostal ministry with an extensive network of “orphan homes” in Cambodia will be investigated by the Ministry of Social Affairs after allegations of sexual abuse surfaced at one of its centers in Kratie province, though the organization will be allowed three months to conduct its own inspection first, officials said on Tuesday.

The Foursquare Cambodia church in Chhlong district’s Chhlong commune, run by Nav Saihou, 32, has served as a residential care center for about 10 children attending a local public school.

In early September, Ms. Saihou left her husband, Nor Thy, 37, to look after the children while she was in nearby Sambor district for a church-run training course. According to police, Mr. Thy molested and attempted to rape three girls between the ages of 10 and 12 before fleeing the center. He remains at large.

Oum Sophannara, director of the Social Affairs Ministry’s child welfare department, said on Tuesday that he chaired a meeting of provincial social affairs officials and Foursquare representatives on Friday, during which it was decided that the Chhlong center would no longer be allowed to operate as a child care facility.

“We raised some problems with Foursquare,” he said. “We [will] not allow them to take care of children anymore, but we [will] allow them to run as a church.”

Mr. Sophannara said the children who slept and spent time at the center before the sex-abuse scandal came to light were back in the care of their families.

He added, however, that at the request of Foursquare Cambodia president Sou Mountha, the organization would be granted a three-month period to conduct an internal inspection of its 93 centers before the government review begins.

“I will organize a working group to go around to the centers and check one by one after that,” he said.

Mr. Sophannara said Foursquare’s own inspection would involve finding out whether children were being left alone in the care of male staff members, but declined to say more about the church and government inspections.

Ms. Mountha could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. Pow Naret, a Foursquare administrator, declined to discuss the case.

The dozens of residential care facilities operated by Foursquare Cambodia are referred to by the organization as “church orphan homes,” despite caring mainly for children with living parents, and operate with little government oversight because they are not registered as orphanages.

Despite Mr. Sophannara’s claims that no children were staying at the Chhlong facility, provincial social affairs director To Dong said on Tuesday that a 15-year-old boy had decided to remain at the center, which is still being run by Ms. Saihou.

“One boy asked the church to stay in the center for one more year because it is hard for him to change schools,” he said.

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